Christchurch Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > New Zealand > Christchurch > History

One hundred and fifty years ago some hardy English settlers scrambled up the steep slopes of the Bridle Path to the summit of the Port Hills and looked down on their new home, a vast stretch of unattractive muddy swampland. It must have been a horrifying sight after such an arduous journey. Those early settlers would be amazed if they were to stand at the same vantage point today. The swamps have been drained and the water runs to the sea through two orderly rivers, the Avon and the Heathcote, while houses have filled vast flat areas and are steadily climbing the hills.

Nowadays few people arrive on sailing ships; most fly into Christchurch International Airport. On a fine day they enjoy a panoramic view of a city lying on the edge of the Canterbury Plains, bounded to the east by the Pacific coastline, to the south by the hills of Banks Peninsula, and to the west by the mountains of the Southern Alps. As the plane circles lower, newcomers can see the expansive Hagley Park and the reasons why Christchurch is lauded as the Garden City. Everywhere there are trees, parks and gardens, but very few high-rises.

Central Business District
The city's Anglican heritage is evident in Cathedral Square, the heart of the city. Some fine hotels overlook it, while one block west, 'The Strip' follows the Avon River along Oxford Terrace, offering visitors cafes by day and clubbing by night. Cuisine styles range from Egyptian to Asian to Pacific Rim.

Taking a tram is a pleasant way to see the western CBD: the Gothic stone buildings of The Arts Centre with its cafes, cinemas and Court Theatre; the Canterbury Museum and Christ's College; while the McDougall Art Gallery hides in the expansive Botanic Gardens next to Hagley Park's golf course and sports fields. If the flatness of the city and its one-way streets are disorienting, get maps and advice from the Visitors' Information Centre before heading off.

Experience the spectrum of entertainment at the Town Hall, the Convention Centre, and the Christchurch Casino, with nearby specialist shops and restaurants. Expensive shops tout for tourist trade close to the Central library, while the tram journey ends under the Spanish facade of New Regent Street.

Further south, you'll discover an eclectic mix of restaurants, dealer art galleries, bookshops, red light establishments and a variety of churches, from the traditional to the more lively Pentecostals. South City Centre offers upmarket clothing and department stores, footwear, wine, antiques and other specialty stores. Cinemas and Science Alive offer entertainment nearby.

West of Cathedral Square
West of Hagley Park, Riccarton is best known for its large indoor shopping facility, Riccarton Mall, and the Riccarton Racecourse, which hosts a thriving Sunday market. Two early settlers' homes and some original native forest can be seen here at Deans' Bush. The upmarket Fendalton has Christchurch Boys' High School, built on land purchased from the Deans family, and Christchurch Girls' High School, erected on a former mill site alongside the Avon River. Just upstream is Mona Vale, with its popular rose garden. Further west is the University of Canterbury's Ilam campus with its world-renowned rhododendron gardens that flower in October/November.

Hornby has Airforce World, cinemas and the site of November's annual Agricultural and Pastoral Show where country comes to town for three days.

North of Cathedral Square
Merivale is a fashionable suburb with cafes, designer clothing and a a growing reputation for antiques. To the northwest Jellie Park Aqualand offers waterslide and picnic facilities. Golfers have Russley Golf Course, and Garden City Golf driving range next to Pirate's Island Adventure Golf. To the northeast, Christchurch Golf Club Inc claims to be among the best in New Zealand and borders on Horseshoe Lake Reserve. Here QE11 Park offers aquatic fun and Leisureland tempts kids with a variety of rides.

South of Cathedral Square
At Addington, the WestpacTrust Centre offers a new multisport facility and Addington Raceway hosts the prestigious New Zealand Trotting Cup. Head up through Cashmere on to the Port Hills where you can walk and mountain bike along various tracks, or hang-glide and revive at the Sign of Takahe. The Mount Cavendish Gondola gives 360 degree views of the Southern Alps, Canterbury Plains, down to the thriving port of Lyttelton and across to Diamond Harbour.

East of Cathedral Square
The suburb of Linwood is a very old part of town, but sports fans will appreciate the rugby fields and cricket grounds of Jade Stadium (formerly Lancaster Park) near Eastgate shopping mall.

Sumner District
The pick of the city's beach suburbs, Sumner is a favourite summer swimming spot with the landmark Cave Rock and popular restaurants like Scarborough Fare. On Clifton Hill, the Gethsemane Gardens look out to the Kaikoura mountains. Further east, Taylor's Mistake offers surfers a superb point break. Various walks begin in the area, notably to the old WW2 gun emplacements on Godley Head, while Ferrymead Historic Park provides graphic insights of life in a bygone era.

Outside the City
Canterbury is renowned for its wines. A drive around Banks Peninsula to the early French settlement of Akaroa brings you to French Farm Winery, plus a variety of cafes, accommodation, walks and harbour attractions. West of Christchurch are vineyards like Giesen Wine Estate, Morworth Estate and Sandihurst Wines. Forty minutes' north is the Waipara district and a cluster of wineries with dining facilities including Pegasus Bay Winery and Restaurant, Waipara Springs Wines, Canterbury House Winery, and Glenmark Wines. Award winning wines proliferate in the area, so be sure to make time to enjoy them.

And in keeping with true Canterbury pioneering spirit, head towards the Southern Alps and check out the numerous skifields and all the action adventure tours of our Southern skies, rivers and harbours.